If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again • 2018 • Magical realism novelette by Zen Cho

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis: Byam is an imugi, an ugly, earthbound proto-Dragon from Korean folklore. The story starts with the very day at which he’s supposed to transform to a glorious dragon after a thousand years of meditation and training. 

The chapter’s title “The first thousand years” already hints at his failure. Some humans witness his attempt:

“Worm! Legless centipede! Son of a bitch! You look like fermented soybeans and you smell even worse!”

Which doesn’t come as a surprise, because Byam fed on their cows.

After two thousand years of relentless learning, Byam gives it another try. He needs a human to witness and testify him as a dragon. Another flop. But after three thousand years, there is at least Leslie who caught him with her camera and posts at Instagram:

leshangry Nature is amazing! #imugi #이무기 #sighting #blessed #여행스타그램 #자연 #등산 #nature #hiking #wanderlust #gooutside #snakesofinstagram

Sadly, Byam remains an imugi. At least, he befriends Leslie, now an astrophysician, disguised as a celestial fairy. 

Even with the supernatural powers accumulated in the course of three millennia of studying the Way, it had taken Byam a while to figure out how to shapeshift. The legs had been the most difficult part. Byam kept giving itself tiger feet, the kind dragons had.

A romance starts, and with it the true transformation of the proto-Dragon.

Review: As the title suggests, this story is about perseverance fighting the universe’s unfairness. As a typical trope of coming-of-age stories, it explores who the main protagonist really is – in this case a refreshing point-of-view of a dragon-to-be.

I can imagine some readers swooning, or maybe crying over the course of the story. And in fact, the story is humorous, light-hearted, and romantic. I’d just have asked for some less heavy-handed morality to be fully enjoyable.

Zen Cho is a reliable author with her stories transforming Asian mythology to our contemporary world. Last year, I’ve read her “Hikaya Sri Bujang, or The Tale of the Naga Sage“, and just a couple of days ago her excellent novel “Black Water Sister”, which will be published in just a few days. 

This novelette legitimately won the 2019 Hugo award. I’ve heard there is also a sequel at the author’s website, but I didn’t find it anymore. I guess, it will be published in this year’s collection Spirits Abroad | Small Beer Press. This is an author to watch out for. 

If you like a cute story playing with your heart-strings, then go for it! 

Meta: isfdb. Available online at Barnes&Noble. It won the Hugo Award. I’ve read it it in the anthology Best of World SF.

This entry was posted in Fantasy, Story and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s